A Forever Kind of Love

God’s love is eternally expressed in Jesus Christ.

Please read Psalm 89 in your Bible.  I used the NIV to research my remarks.

Picture the usual Christmas scene and focus on the husband and wife opening their gifts to each other.  This is one of those moments in life when something funny is bound to happen.

The husband pointed to an ill-wrapped package and said, “Open that one next.”

The wife picked up gift and unwrapped it, opening it to find one of those obnoxious singing-and-dancing robot Christmas trees. She is a bit shocked, remembering how just days ago she had pointed out how much she hated those things when she and her husband were shopping together.

Holding it at arm’s length she said, “Weren’t you listening when I said I thought these were the most annoying things ever?”

“Open that other gift,” the husband said, pointing to a long package that is even more poorly wrapped and is very heavy.

His wife set down the robotic Christmas tree as if it were radioactive.  She opened the second package to reveal a sledgehammer.

“Is this for what I think it’s for?”

The husband replied, “And you thought I wasn’t paying attention!”

<Adapted from https://www.rd.com/funny-stuff/funny-christmas-jokes/ on 12/21/17.>

We pin a lot of hopes and waste a lot of time trying to both please and surprise one another with Christmas gifts, don’t we?

One person wrote about how her dad got her mom a DVD of her favorite movie.  That would’ve been a thoughtful gift, except the DVD was a rental and they didn’t own a DVD player!

When calamities come, one question that springs to mind is “Why?  Why did God allow this to happen to me?”  The worst calamity to ever befall the OT people of God (Judah) was to be taken over and taken captive by the Babylonians.  This psalm is one of many examples of songs lamenting this terrible circumstance.

The psalm writers were not shy about expressing these questions, even accusing God of neglecting them.  They pleaded for an end to their suffering and leaned on His promises to encourage their hope.  This morning’s Psalm is an example of this way of attempting to renew the hopes of the captive Jews.

  1. The forever love of God is found in the dynasty of David (Psalm 89:1-4).

In verses one and two the LORD is worshiped because of His LOVE and FAITHFULNESS.  These words occur seven times in the 52 verses of this psalm.

Eternity is bound up in this song; it is meant to be “The Song that Never Ends.”  We see this in the use of FOREVER and THROUGH ALL GENERATIONS; this worship is as eternal as HEAVEN ITSELF.  In Hebrew, the word translated as FOREVER is an indefinite length of time.  It is not exactly the same as the New Testament idea of eternity.  For example, in Romans 11:29, Paul wrote GOD’S GIFTS AND HIS CALL ARE IRREVOCABLE.  This assures us that God is not going to suddenly change His mind.  Our salvation is secure.  Here we see the idea that eternal means “unchanging.”

The LORD’s GREAT LOVE, a constant (faithful) LOVE.  So faithfulness is another aspect of things eternal.

These divine virtues they have been ESTABLISHED…IN HEAVEN ITSELF. The idea implied in the Hebrew is that the psalmist is creating a record of God’s faithfulness that will be preserved for future generations.

The appropriate human response is to praise God for His perfect love.  The words SING and DECLARE cover the two main ways we humans use our mouths to praise God.  The phrase WITH MY MOUTH meant “aloud” or “loudly.”  The joy of being in God is not supposed to be something we contain.  It ought to be too wonderful for us to conceal or hold inside; it ought to flow out of us, revealing God’s LOVE and FAITHFULNESS to our family and community.

The rest of this song gives us examples of other reasons the LORD is worthy of worship.

Vs. 5-13 = God’s power over creation.

Vs. 14-18 = God’s moral power.

Vs. 19-29 = God’s Son will be imbued with power.

Vs. 30-45 = God’s wrath against sin is mitigated by his covenant LOVE and FAITHFULNESS to keep His part of the covenant.

Vs. 46-52 = Worship includes pleading to God for mercy and relief from His discipline.

Verses three and four explain one aspect of His LOVE and FAITHFULNESS: His eternal covenant with David in which God established the dynasty of David forever.  (See also vs. 26-29.)  King David is referred to as the LORD’s CHOSEN ONE and His SERVANT, emphasizing the special relationship they enjoyed.

The title CHOSEN ONE refers to the way God always works.  He chooses us first.  He makes His plans and attempts to work them with our cooperation.  The emphasis is never on our qualifications, but on God’s choosing and empowering.

The title SERVANT refers to David doing his part of the covenant-relationship; doing God’s will.

The COVENANT God swore with David was to establish an eternal dynasty, having one of David’s descendants reign over God’s people for all eternity.  The fulfillment of this promise was realized in Jesus, who was a member of David’s royal family and because of His victory over death, Jesus Christ will reign as King for all eternity.

We are to feel secure in this promise.  The psalmist expressed that feeling of security in a couple different ways: he used the words STANDS FIRM (2) and ESTABLISH (4) to assure us of this trustworthy foundation to our faith.

  1. The forever love of God is found in the Son of David, Jesus Christ.

The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel (1:1-17) is there to prove that Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, was of the line of David and went back only as far as Abraham.  The purpose behind that family tree was to show that Jesus is related to all Jews.

The genealogy of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel (1:1-17) is also there to prove that Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, was of the line of David.  But Luke’s version goes all the way back to Adam, with the purpose of showing that Jesus is related to all people.  Some people also think that even though Mary’s name is not used by Luke, these ancestors Mary shared in common with Joseph.

The love of God the Father for Jesus, God the Son, was expressed three times in the New Testament.

The first was at Jesus’ baptism by John (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22), where the voice from heaven said, “THIS IS MY SON, WHOM I LOVE; WITH HIM I AM WELL PLEASED.”

These words were repeated by the voice of our Heavenly Father at Jesus’ Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36), with an addition, “LISTEN TO HIM.”

In John 12:20-50, Jesus taught some Greeks about eternal life and prayed, “FATHER, GLORIFY YOUR NAME.”  The heavenly voice responded, “I HAVE GLORIFIED IT, AND WILL GLORIFY IT AGAIN.” Jesus explained that the voice spoke so that the people there would realize that His immanent death would provide salvation for all people.

God’s love is eternally expressed in Jesus Christ.

In an article entitled “Keep Close to the Heart of Christmas,” Bible Teacher and Pastor John Piper put Christmas in perspective.

“Now, I think this is as close as we get to the actual description of the event of the incarnation — of the divine nature, in some way, uniting with the human nature in the womb of Mary. We know from numerous texts in the New Testament that Jesus was God, very God, who had a divine nature. He had a real divine nature. Colossians 2:9 says that in his body there was ‘fullness of deity.’

“And we know that Jesus Christ also had a human nature. Paul says, ‘There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus’ (1 Timothy 2:5). So he was a mediator between God and man because he was a man. So we know that Jesus was a God-man. There were two natures, the divine nature and the human nature, in this one person — Jesus Christ.”

<Retrieved from https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/keep-close-to-the-heart-of-christmas on 12/21/17.>

On this last Sunday in Advent, with Christmas Eve just hours away, we reach the climax of our struggle to keep Christmas centered on Christ.  Too soon, the day will be over and we’ll wonder why we got into such a fuss again this year.  We’ll vow to do better next year and probably fall back into old habits instead.

We’ve learned that Jesus Christ is the focus of both Old and New Testaments.  He gives all that is needed for salvation to all who will, by faith, receive it.  Be one of those people at Christmas and all year long.

Turns Out You CAN Go Home

(Please read Matthew 2:19-23 in your favorite version of the Bible.  I used the NIV to do my research.)

Matthew 2:19-23  X  “Turns Out You CAN Go Home”  X  EBC = 12/25/16

One of the offbeat things that 2016 brought us is “fake news.”   This is something entirely fictitious masquerading as an actual news story.  People put this stuff on the Internet for various reasons, but the common factor is that it’s fake.

In case you missed it, there was an example of fake news in the Twin Cities just last week.  Some guy got it in his head that the new stadium was a waste of tax payers’ money and should be opened up as a shelter for the homeless on that especially cold night.  So he “tweeted” that it would be.

A friend of his “re-tweeted” this as if it were a real news item.  That fellow had 14,000 followers, many of who “re-tweeted” this item as if it really were accurate.  Announcers calling the Minnesota Vikings game on TV talked about it during their broadcast, and the whole messy lie took on a life of its own.

Other examples abound.  Fake News is nothing new.  Anybody here heard about Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds?”  It has been suggested that dead children and grieving mothers in ISIS video are just actors.

Having more access to information does not necessarily mean we have more access to the truth.  It means that, more than ever, we have to exercise good judgment to discern what is true.

As believers, we have an alternative to “fake news.”  For about 2000 years we’ve been calling it “good news,” the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Tim Stanley wrote an article entitled “Sick of fake news? Try the ‘good news’ about Christmas” for the London Telegraph.  I like his take on our more wholesome alternative to fake news.

“How do we test if faith is real? Look at what it produces. It is outwardly, indisputably more beautiful and magnificent than its secular alternative.   As my evidence, I won’t just cite the eyewitness accounts or the corroborating evidence from Josephus or Pliny. No, I cite love.

“You’ll think I’m mad. Love is just a concept, say the philosophers, or an evolutionary quirk, say the biologists. Society doesn’t seem very interested in talking about it; it’s out of style. The news, fake or otherwise, is dominated by evil.

Stanley cites a letter from an American agnostic who found a surprising alternative in Christianity: “Right now, I am struggling to accept the basic Christian doctrines (virgin birth, resurrection, second coming) because I feel the Christian tribe may be the right tribe for my family. We just finished watching a BBC miniseries about the birth of Jesus, which was so beautiful and moving compared to secular TV. My nine-year-old really enjoyed it.”

“That the events of two thousand years ago inspire all of this suggests, to me, that there has to be something to them. People wouldn’t turn their lives around over a myth – any more than the critics of Christianity wouldn’t waste so much energy trying to debunk a childish delusion. We do this big Christmas festival thing for a reason. Because deep in our soul, we connect the love on display in the nativity with our own needs and experiences.

“Some people have found 2016 depressing. It’s had its ups and downs. But evil trades in doubt and we should resist it. The fake news is that mankind is lost. The good news is that it can be saved.”

<Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/12/23/sick-fake-news-try-good-news-christmas/ on 12/23/16.>

  1. This event itself.

Verses 19-22 relate the third dream.  For the first and only time Joseph hesitated.  The angel’s message from God was simple; there was no longer any threat to the Christ-child, so it was time to come home.  King Herod died in 4 B.C.  This makes it possible that he did not live long after ordering the killing of all the male children in Bethlehem.

By Herod’s own will and the prerogative of Caesar Augustus, Herod’s kingdom was divided between his surviving sons.  Matthew recorded Archelaus was given jurisdiction over Judea (Jerusalem), Samaria, & Idumea (south).  His brothers Philip II ruled Galilee (north) and Antipas Galilee and Perea (middle).

The angel’s command was to go to THE LAND OF ISRAEL, which Joseph understood as being Judea, a province ruled by Archelaus.  Joseph was concerned about his family’s safety if they settled anywhere in Judea. He had good reason to be concerned: when Archelaus was king over Judea, he ordered the killing of 3000 people during the observance of the Day of Pentecost.  This massacre caused widespread rioting and got Archelaus in a great deal of trouble with Rome.  Later, in AD 6, a joint delegation of Jews and Samaritans went to Rome and pleaded Augustus to remove Archelaus from power.  Caesar agreed, and banished Archelaus to the frontier – the middle of Europe – in a place that would be called “Vienna.”  Archelaus was replaced by a governor appointed by Rome, which is where Pontius Pilate will come onto the scene when Jesus is grown to manhood and accused by the Jews of treason.  (Pontius Pilate was the fifth man to hold that title.  He was no great statesman and could be ruthless like Archelaus.)

Clearly, this account in Matthew 2 happened before Archelaus’ banishment.  No doubt reports of this grave abuse of power reached Joseph and other Jews living in Egypt.

God heard Joseph’s concern and sent a fourth dream, diverting the Holy Family to the province of Galilee, which was ruled by Antipas, not Archelaus.  Antipas was no real prize either, as the Gospels tell us he was the man who would order the death of John the Baptist and interrogate Jesus prior to His crucifixion.

The fourth dream and Joseph’s compliance are recorded in vs. 22+23.  Put yourself in Joseph’s place for a moment: all these dreams.  Are you worried about sleeping?  Do you lay down and think, “OK, what’s it gonna be tonight?  More angels bossing me around?”  So the family settled in Nazareth.  In Matthew’s Gospel, it seems like Nazareth is a new community, but Luke tells us it was the place from which both Joseph and Mary originated.

If you were looking for a place to “hide in plain sight,” Nazareth was a good choice.  It had a population of just 500-1500 people.

  1. The significance of the event.

The safety of the Christ-child is the most significant outcome.   Having preserved Him from Herod’s rage, the infant Jesus is now preserved from the lethal tyranny of Archelaus.

It proves that returning to Bethlehem was out of the question.  It was in the territory ruled by Archelaus and he was deadly crazy like his father.  It would have been the first place Archelaus would have looked if he followed up on his father’s bloody crusade against the new king.  Most importantly, growing up in Bethlehem was simply not God’s plan.

Another significant aspect of event is the fulfillment of prophecy (23).   Matthew is not directly quoting any single Old Testament prophet and that is why he used the plural term PROPHETS.  His statement is a summary and restatement of Scriptures he memorized from the Hebrew version of the Old Testament and that is a partial explanation why we can’t find this quote directly in the Old Testament.

Nazareth was an obscure town 70 miles north of Jerusalem.  It was a place of lowly reputation, especially among the city folk in Jerusalem.   For example, in John 1:46, Nathanael asked “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  He found out something good had come out of Nazareth; Jesus.  He would go on to become one of Jesus’ disciples.  Another example: in Acts 7:25, when Christians were referred to as “the Nazarene sect,” it was intended as an insult.

Some people denied Jesus was the Messiah based on their false assumption that He was born in Nazareth, not in Bethlehem.  It became a point on which they sneered at Jesus (John 7:41-43).

Finally, in this event some scholars see a repeat of the Exodus.  In the original Exodus, the nation of Israel was delivered from slavery to Egypt.  While it is true Jesus also came out of Egypt, but unlike the Israelites, He was tested in 40 DAYS, not 40 YEARS, and He was faithful to do the entire will of God.  He left Egypt a child, not a slave.  His mission was not to found a new nation, but appeal to God’s people to believe in Him as their Messiah and so be saved.

With more than a tad bit of cynicism, Arden Dier reported on a recent event that does not portend well for the new year.  This prediction is based on a relic that bears an odd resemblance to a “Magic Eight Ball.”

“According to legend, a woman collected the blood of Saint Januarius, or San Gennaro—the once pious bishop of Naples who was beheaded as Christianity was under attack around AD 305—and preserved it in a glass vial, reports Seeker.  Then a ‘blood miracle’ in 1389: the congealed blood liquefied. The archbishop of Naples now performs this ‘blood miracle,’ shaking the vial in front of thousands until the blood liquefies.  This occurs on three significant days each year, the most recent of which should have been Dec. 16. (Mount Vesuvius erupted on that day in 1631, and Naples was said to have been protected by the saint.) And yet last week, it didn’t.

“One website claims that when the blood miracle—which is ‘not quite sanctioned by the Catholic Church,’ per the Week—has failed to work, 22 epidemics, 19 earthquakes, four wars, and various other tragedies have followed. When the blood last failed to liquefy in 1980, an earthquake struck 30 miles from Naples, killing 2,400 people. The blood also remained congealed in 1939, the year World War II began.

“But ‘we must not think of calamities,’ says the local abbot, per the Catholic News Agency.  ‘We are men of faith and we must pray.’”

Whether this report worries you or not, having faith and praying is always good advice.  I can absolutely guarantee 2017 will be a good year if you commit to being more faithful and give more time to prayer.  It may not be “good” in the way you’re envisioning right now, because that’s up to God to decide.  But I hope we can all agree that any year which sees us drawing closer to God is a good year in the most important sense.

These first two chapters of Matthew are secretly about Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph.  We have seen how God guided Joseph by supernatural means – through his dreams.  It would be easy to be cynical and discount dreams, just as we might find the “Blood Miracle of Naples” to be a little hard to swallow.

Instead, let’s give credit to Joseph for being faithful and obedient.  Let’s give glory to God for the greater miracle of the life of Jesus.

Murder and Grief

(Please read Matthew 2:13-18 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

BOB SMIETANA (Bob.Smietana@LifeWay.comis senior writer for Facts & Trends.

“Check into a hotel room this holiday season and you’ll likely get a Wi-Fi password along with your room key. You’ll also probably find a copy of Gideon’s Bible.  More than three quarters of hotels (79 percent) say their rooms feature religious material, according to a new survey from research firm STR, which focuses on the hospitality industry.

That’s up slightly from 2015, when 77 percent of hotels had religious material.

“Hotel Bibles made headlines this week, after Marriott decided to drop Bibles from the amenities offered at several new high-end hotel brands.

‘It’s because the religious books don’t fit the personality of the brands,’ a Marriott spokeswoman told the LA Times.

“The more expensive a hotel, the less likely they are to stock Bibles in their rooms. According to STR’s research, 57 percent of luxury hotel rooms have religious material.

“By contrast, 89 percent of economy hotel rooms have religious material. Small hotels (69 percent) and big hotels (70 percent) are less likely to have religious material than mid-sized hotels (86 percent).  Hotels in small towns (83 percent), off the Interstate (89 percent), or in the suburbs (83 percent) are more likely to have religious material than those at resorts (61 percent), in urban areas (67 percent), or by the airport (74 percent).

“Bibles have been a staple at hotels for more than a century, with many placed by the Gideons International, a Nashville-based Christian nonprofit, since 1908.  Founded by traveling businessmen, the Gideons placed their first Bible at the Superior Hotel in Montana in 1908.

“Hotel Bibles make up only 2 percent of the Bibles the Gideons distribute, according to the group’s annual report. More than a billion Bibles have been distributed worldwide since 1908—and almost 100 million were handed out in 2015.

“Craig Warner, executive director of The Gideons International, says a Bible offers comfort for travelers who may be far from home.

‘Travel can be stressful. And life can be stressful when travelling,’ says Warner. ‘It’s in their hour of need that people find a Bible in a hotel room. They may not be a person of faith but they still recognize other people find hope and purpose in God’s Word. For hoteliers, Bibles remain a service for their customers.’”

That is an appropriate item of good news on this Sunday when we look at Joseph’s second act of obedience in traveling and taking his family to Egypt.

<Retrieved from http://factsandtrends.net/2016/12/09/despite-worries-hotel-bible-remain-almost-as-popular-as-wi-fi/#.WFQC71UrLcu on 12/16/16.>

  1. This event fulfilled prophecies.

Hosea’s prophecy is quoted by Mathew in verse fifteen.  Compare Matthew 2:15 with Hosea 11:1; “WHEN ISRAEL WAS A CHILD, I LOVED HIM, AND OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED MY SON.”

What the prophecy meant in Hosea’s time.  Israel became a nation after they left Egypt.  On the most immediate level, this verse looks back to that time.  For example, in Exodus 4:22-23 God instructed Moses to refer to Israel as His SON.  Israel enjoyed this relationship with God because God chose them.  We see this emphasis repeated in the NT, where the Church consists of the ones God has chosen and called out of the world.  In Hosea’s prophecy, this is the first part of God’s promise that after a time of experiencing His wrath, His people will be restored.

What it meant in Jesus’ time.  In the history of God’s people there was more than one occasion when they fled to Egypt for safety.  (Even a king, Jeroboam, did this.)  God condemned them for a lack of faith.  They put more trust in the chariots of Egypt than in Him.  This happened so often that there was a sizeable collection of Jews in Alexandria and other parts of Egypt.  This means Joseph would have had no problem finding a place to stay.

What’s interesting is that Jewish historians of the time accepted the account of Jesus’ family living in Egypt as historical fact.  They went a step further and claimed He learned magic there and His miracles were practices of that magic.

What we’ve said repeatedly about Matthew is his intent to show Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy.  Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, Matthew picked up this verse from Hosea and recognized it as a prophecy that referred to the Messiah, though there was nothing there to indicate that before Jesus was born.

Matthew quoted Jeremiah’s prophecy in verse eighteen.  Here’s what we found in Jeremiah wrote in 31:15: THIS IS WHAT THE LORD SAYS: “A VOICE IS HEARD IN RAMAH, MOURNING AND GREAT WEEPING, RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN AND REFUSING TO BE COMFORTED, BECAUSE HER CHILDREN ARE NO MORE.”

What it meant in Jeremiah’s time.  RAMAH was a city 5 miles NORTH of Jerusalem.  BETHLEHEM was 6 miles to the SOUTH.  Perhaps the point is that the anguish of the grief in Bethlehem and the infamy of the crime against her would be so great that people on the opposite side of the city would be aware of it.  According to Jeremiah 40:1, RAMAH was also the staging area where the people of Judah were assembled and then deported to Babylon.  I’m sure that was an unpleasant association for the Jews.

RACHEL was Jacob/Israel’s favored wife, the mother to Joseph and Benjamin.  According to Genesis 35:19, Rachel was buried in Bethlehem where she died in childbirth.  (Her tomb is a holy site revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims to this day.)  This is akin to saying that Rachel would weep in her grave, sharing the grief of the people.

But if you read further in Jeremiah 31, to v. 17, God comforted Rachel with the promise that the people would be restored to Judah and He would make a new covenant with them at that time (see vs. 31-34).  In spite of all this unpleasantness, these verses are part of a promise of comfort.

What the prophecy meant in Jesus’ time.  The death of the male children in Bethlehem was another grief-stricken event in a history of having suffered cruelty at the hand of Herod.  It must’ve reminded people like Matthew of the grief suffered by their ancestors.  This verse was an emotional and spiritual connection between those who suffered tragic loss at Herod’s hand and their forebears, who suffered loss at the hands of the Babylonians.

  1. This event contrasted Jesus and Herod.

Herod is the vicious king who stopped at nothing to protect his throne from all perceived threats.  Herod’s character flaws are well attested in the Bible and by non-biblical ancient historians.  For example, Josephus wrote whole volumes about Herod’s ruthlessness.

From these verses we learn Herod…

– Intended to kill the newborn King of the Jews (13).

– Was furious at the Magi for not returning to him as ordered (16).

– He ordered the death of the male children (16).

He may have seen this as a measured response.  After all, it was only boys, only boys aged two years or younger, and only in Bethlehem (a very small village).   The actual death count may have been low, not enough to justify emotionally-charged words like “slaughter” and “massacre.”

But these facts only make it more chilling, don’t they?  That Herod struck at this specific group in this ways is cold-hearted and calculated.  It was carefully measured, enough to eliminate the new king, but not so much to arouse the population of Jerusalem to wrath.  Verse seven told us that Herod met with the MAGI secretly to inquire about THE EXACT TIME THE STAR HAD APPEARED.   His purpose was to be able estimate the age of the newborn king.  Herod was crafty – he was preparing to meet the threat on his own if the MAGI failed.  Combine that with verse sixteen where Herod targeted all Bethlehem boys up to two years old and you can estimate Jesus’ age when these events took place.

Jesus was the Prince of Peace, an innocent child.  This fact doesn’t need any more explanation does it?  The contrast between these two historical figures could not be greater.

            This week I read an interview Bible Gateway held with popular Christian author Max Lucado about his book, Because of Bethlehem: Love Is Born, Hope Is Here (Thomas Nelson, 2016).  A couple of their questions and his answers apply to our study of Matthew 2:13-18.  (By the way, Max Lucado is the author we’re quoting in our Advent candle-lighting devotions.)

ON THE SUBJECT OF KING HEROD:

            “While the Christmas story is full of beauty and wonder, there’s a bad guy. Describe the message his life offers.

            “Max Lucado: We can learn a lesson from the sad life of King Herod. It’s always better to step down from the pedestal than to be pulled off of it. Like the innkeeper, Herod missed an opportunity to see Jesus. God did everything necessary to get Herod’s attention. He sent messengers from the East and a message from the Torah. He sent wonders from the sky and words from Scripture. He sent the testimony of the heavens and the teaching of the prophets. But Herod refused to listen. He chose his puny dynasty over Christ. He died a miserable old man. The path marked Pride will lead you over a cliff. The path marked Humility will take you to the manger of the Messiah.”

ON THE SUBJECT OF JESUS, GOD INCARNATE:

Why did God decide to be become a human and go through everything he did?

            “Max Lucado: A chief reason is this: he wants you to know that he gets you. He understands how you feel and has faced what you face. Jesus is not “out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help” (Heb. 4:15–16 MSG). Since you know he understands, you can boldly go to him. Because of Bethlehem’s miracle, you can answer these fundamental questions:

– Does God care if I’m sad? Look at the tear-streaked face of Jesus as he stands near Lazarus’s tomb.

– Does God notice when I’m afraid? Note the resolve in the eyes of Jesus as he marches through the storm to rescue his friends.

– Does God know if I am ignored or rejected? Find the answer in the compassionate eyes of Christ as he stands to defend the adulterous woman.

– Does God understand you? Find the answer in Bethlehem.”

This is why we return to these Bible passages year after year.  We need to be reminded that God revealed the full extent of His love in Jesus Christ.  During Advent, it is our job to do the same.

(Should you like to see the video version of this message, please look up “EBCSF” on YouTube.)

A Saintly Stepfather

(Please read Matthew 1:18-25 in your favorite Bible.  I have used the NIV as a basis for these remarks.)
There was the little boy who approached Santa in a department store with a long list of requests. He wanted a bicycle and a sled, a chemical set, a cowboy suit, a set of trains, a baseball glove and roller skates.
“That’s a pretty long list,” Santa said sternly. “I’ll have to check in my book and see if you were a good boy.”
“No, no,” the youngster said quickly. “Never mind checking. I’ll just take the roller skates.”
A less materialistic little fellow came closer to the real meaning of Christmas. A store owner was doing some last minute Christmas shopping with his young son when he saw another store owner with whom he had been friends for some time. The two of them exchanged greetings and spoke with each other about what a financially profitable season it had been for their respective stores. The small boy overheard his father say, “This has been the best Christmas ever.”
As the store owners parted company, the father and son continued their shopping, but the father noticed his son had become very quiet. He inquired as to his son’s silence, and his son replied, “Dad, you just told Mr. Johnson that this was the best Christmas ever.”
His dad replied, “I did, son. The economy is great, and people are really spending.”
“O.K.” the son replied, “It’s just that I always thought the first Christmas was the best one.”
<Retrieved from http://www.tonycooke.org/holiday-resources/christmas_illustrations/ on 12/2/16.>
More than any other holy day, Christmas has been co-opted by our culture, turning it into something irrelevant to the event itself. We know from church history that the church took Dec. 25th away from the pagans who were celebrating the winter solstice. Now it seems they want their
holiday back.
The important thing to we who believe is keeping our perspective in order. At Christmas, we celebrate one of God’s signature events. He became one of us. Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man at the same time is a fact that taxes our knowledge and our imagination, but is wholly necessary for a saving faith.
Whatever reason others may have to observe Christmas in their own way, ours is to look to the Incarnation, the in-boy revelation of God, and rejoice that He came. This is why we return to the biblical texts year after year, reaffirming the faith we have received as a heritage and work to pass along as a legacy.
Last Sunday we looked at the family tree of Jesus. There we saw an important if neglected figure in our history of faith, a man named Zerubbabel. He set an example of perseverance and devotion to doing the will of God that we would do well to follow.
Which leads us to today. At the top of that family tree we found the name Joseph. Joseph, we should observe, was NOT the biological father of Jesus. While Matthew includes Jesus at the very top of Joseph’s family tree, this is not for the usual reason. It is not a relationship of blood that bound Jesus to Joseph.
As we shall see, God is the Father of Jesus. One of the persons of the Trinity would, from Jesus’ birthday forward, be known as “God the Son” because he accepted a human body that God the Holy Spirit made for Him in cooperation with a brave little lady named Mary.
Out of convenience and respect we refer to Joseph as Jesus’ “father,” but it would be more accurate to say that he was Jesus’ “stepfather” or “adoptive father.” I do not make this point to take anything away from Joseph. He too is a great man of faith who sets an example for us to follow.
1. Joseph made a wrong but kind decision (1:18-19).
It was a wrong decision because he did not know the true means of Mary’s pregnancy. Verse eighteen clearly tells the reader the cause of Mary’s pregnancy: THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT. Since he believed that Mary’s pregnancy was disgraceful, Joseph decided to DIVORCE her.
It was kind decision because he did not want to expose Mary to disgrace or harm. Joseph writhed on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, he was FAITHFUL TO THE LAW. The Law had a very strict penalty for adultery; death by stoning (see Leviticus 20:10). On the other hand, Joseph wished to spare Mary of both kinds of suffering if he could. If he extended her mercy, that outcome could be avoided. However, there was still the court of public opinion and the DISGRACE Mary would face in the community.
Joseph resolved his dilemma by his decision to keep the DIVORCE and its cause quiet. He wanted to keep Mary and her pregnancy out of the public eye as much as possible. In this instance, Joseph is an example of the classic struggle between law and grace, between holiness and love. Knowing how to balance these sometimes complimentary virtues is one essence of wisdom.
2. God’s messenger changed Joseph’s mind (1:20-21).
The word “angel” literally means “messenger.” The ANGEL OF THE LORD APPEARED TO JOSEPH IN A DREAM to deliver God’s message about the truth behind Mary’s pregnancy.
Let’s note the specifics of the message.
The angel addresses him as JOSEPH, SON OF DAVID. Especially in Matthew’s Gospel, it is essential to note that Jesus came as the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Old Testament to send a Messiah. One aspect of the Messiah is that he would continue the dynasty of David, being one of His descendants. We looked into this last week. Though Joseph is not Jesus’ father, it is still important that he be a descendant of David, and that fact is affirmed again by the angel.
DO NOT BE AFRAID TO TAKE MARY HOME AS YOUR WIFE. Of what was Joseph AFRAID? Based on the context, we can assume he was afraid of violating the Law. He may have also feared public ridicule or retribution.
This statement is puzzling if we don’t understand that culture’s wedding traditions. When the marriage was arranged and agreed-upon, the couple was considered to be married in every way until the wedding day. Then the wedding was held and the union consummated for the first time. What looks to us as an “engagement” is a different relationship in their culture. In this case, as Mary’s “reputation” was already under suspicion, Joseph was told to move up the wedding date and immediately include Mary in the home he had made for the two of them.
WHAT IS CONCEIVED IN HER IS FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT. Mary was not, as everyone assumed, guilty of adultery. She had not cheated on Joseph. Just the opposite; she had been faithful to both Joseph and God. The truth of the matter was that her pregnancy was a miraculous act of God.
SHE WILL GIVE BIRTH TO A SON…YOU ARE TO GIVE HIM THE NAME JESUS…HE WILL SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS. HIS PEOPLE are the Jews. Jesus’ own description of His mission was to the nation of Israel first.
FROM THEIR SINS = Jesus came to save people. Sin leads to death. The sacrifice of blood is God’s cure for the problem of sin and Jesus’ blood would be shed for that purpose.
3. Interlude: explaining prophecy (1:22-23).
As we’ve observed, Matthew is very concerned about Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy, so, no surprise that 22 verses into his Gospel, we have the first citation of fulfilled prophecy. This is not part of the angel’s message, it’s an aside delivered by Matthew. Let’s note the specifics.
THE VIRGIN WILL CONCEIVE AND GIVE BIRTH. This is obviously a supernatural, miraculous occurrence. Both Matthew and Luke go to lengths (as we’ll see in v. 25) to let us know Mary’s pregnancy was this miracle.
To be clear – the conception of Jesus was supernatural; a miracle. The birth of Jesus was completely natural and typical. Mary shared the experience of every mother from Eve onward.
SHE WILL…GIVE BIRTH TO A SON, just as the angel predicted to Joseph in v. 21. As we see later in the passage, this is exactly what came to pass.
THEY WILL CALL HIM IMMANUEL might, at first glance, seem contradictory with the angel’s instruction to Joseph to name Him Jesus. Note that THEY, not “you” will call Him Immanuel. This is a name others will bestow on Jesus. The meaning of this name or title is literally “God with us;” Jesus was God present in the flesh. What is more significant than the name itself is what it tells us about Jesus; He would be GOD WITH US.
4. Joseph completely obeyed God (1:24-25).
WHEN JOSEPH WOKE UP means he didn’t waste any time. Joseph was obedient in time and in the fullness of the angel’s instructions.
It’s my pet theory that the wedding date was moved up and perhaps it was observed without the usual fanfare and the customary week-long party. I speculate that it was early enough in Mary’s pregnancy that no one else knew about it and a quick wedding might mislead others into thinking Jesus was Joseph’s son.
This theory has only a little support in the Bible. In Matthew 13:55, when Jesus returned to Nazareth after beginning His ministry, the people of Nazareth remarked, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” If they had ever known about Mary’s pregnancy before consummating her relationship with Joseph, they forgot about it. I like to think that Joseph was such a kind-hearted man that he was willing to endure a slur on his character rather than let Mary take the heat for something she clearly had not done; be unfaithful to him.
Joseph is such a faithful man he took the command of God one step further and did not insist on his conjugal rights: HE DID NOT CONSUMMATE THEIR MARRIAGE UNTIL [after] SHE GAVE BIRTH TO A SON. This, of course, fulfilled the prophecy entirely, maintaining Mary’s virginity until the birth of Jesus. Also, Joseph followed through on all the angel’s instructions and GAVE [Mary’s son] THE NAME JESUS.
For all kinds of reasons, Christmas has occasionally been a tense, hotly contested holiday. One of the recurring stories is non-Christians complaining about how the holiday gives Christianity too much of the spotlight.
You may remember that our former governor Bill Janklow was not one to let complaints bother him too much. When criticized about having a nativity scene on display, Janklow prepared to let every religion put something on display in the Capitol, and even set aside an “empty corner” for the use of atheists.
Tony Cooke and David Beebe came up with a cute and insightful look at the conflicts of Christmas. They took a popular poem and wrote their own version of it. The titled it ‘Twas the Fight Before Christmas.
‘Twas the fight before Christmas,
And all through the house,
Not a creature was peaceful,
Not even my spouse.
The bills were strung out on our table with dread,
In hopes that our checkbook would not be in the red.
The children were fussing and throwing a fit,
When Billy came screaming and cried, “I’ve been bit.”
And Momma with her skillet, and I with the remote,
She said, “You change one more channel and I’ll grab your throat.”
When on the TV there arose such a clatter,
I sat up on the couch to see what was the matter.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
The cable was out, it was my worst fear.
“The Cowboys, the Celtics, the Raiders, the Knicks,
Without the sports channel I’d soon need a fix!”
And then in the midst of my grievous sorrow,
I remembered the times I had promised, “tomorrow…”
“Not now, my children, but at some soon time,
Dad will play with you, and things will be fine.”
Now under conviction, I looked at my wife,
Where was my kindness? Why all the strife?
My heart quickly softened; I now saw my task,
Some love and attention was all they had asked.
I gathered my family and called them by name,
And told them with God’s help I’d not be the same.
We’ll keep Christ in Christmas and honor His plan.
No more fights before Christmas—on that we will stand.
My children’s eyes twinkled; they squealed with delight.
My wife gladly nodded; she knew I was right.
It was the fight before Christmas, but God’s love had come through,
And just like He does, He made all things new.
<Retrieved from http://www.tonycooke.org/holiday-resources/christmas_illustrations/ on 12/2/16.>

We redeem the days of Advent by following the faith example set for us by Joseph.  In addition to being faithful to God’s will, Joseph showed grace.  He demonstrated personal holiness in his full devotion to God and gracious love in the sacrifices he made for Mary and by adopting Jesus as his son.

Joseph: The End

(Please read Genesis 49+50 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I have based the following remarks on the NIV.)

 

Eric Jackson, writing for Forbes magazine three years ago, listed the top 25 regrets people tend to have as they approach the end of life.  I’ve changed the list to make it proactive and positive – how to avoid having regrets at the end of life.

  1. Don’t work so much at the expense of relationships.
  2. Stand up to bullies in school and in life.
  3. Stay in touch with good friends.
  4. Turn off your phone more.
  5. Resolve romantic break-ups with honesty and then move on.
  6. Stop worrying about what others think about you.
  7. Have more confidence in yourself.
  8. Live the life you want to live, not to please others.
  9. Apply for the “dream job” you always wanted.
  10. Don’t take life so seriously.
  11. Go on more trips with family/friends.
  12. Don’t let your marriage break down.
  13. Teach children (especially your own) to do stuff.
  14. Bury the hatchet with a family member or old friend.
  15. Trust that voice in the back of your head.
  16. Ask more questions.
  17. Involve yourself with the good people.
  18. Get that degree (high school or college).
  19. Don’t always make decisions on the basis of practicalities – have faith and take a risk.
  20. Spending more time at special events.
  21. Take care of your health when you still have a choice.
  22. Not having the courage to get up and talk at a funeral or an important event.
  23. Visiting a dying friend before they get sick and die.
  24. Learn another language.
  25. Be a better lover.

(Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericjackson/2012/10/18/the-25-biggest-regrets-in-life-what-are-yours/ on 9/25/15.)

Message: Make peace in order to finish strong.

  1. Jacob (aka “Israel”) made peace with his sons and died.

Jacob had already hinted twice that death was near.

– 45:28 = AND ISRAEL SAID, “I’M CONVINCED! MY SON JOSEPH IS STILL ALIVE. I WILL GO AND SEE HIM BEFORE I DIE.”

– 46:30 = ISRAEL SAID TO JOSEPH, “NOW I AM READY TO DIE, SINCE I HAVE SEEN FOR MYSELF THAT YOU ARE STILL ALIVE.”

Still, death was not very near: Jacob and Joseph enjoyed 17 years together before he died. In 47:28 we read, JACOB LIVED IN EGYPT SEVENTEEN YEARS, AND THE YEARS OF HIS LIFE WERE A HUNDRED AND FORTY-SEVEN.

The big thing prior to death was for the father to pass along a blessing to his sons. Jacob’s first preparation for death was to gather his sons and pronounced that blessing. It is recorded in detail in chapter 49. First, let’s recall how Jacob had himself deceived his elderly father Isaac several years ago to unlawfully obtain the first-born son’s special blessing way back in chapter 27.

In the case of Jacob’s sons, the blessing didn’t work out as some of them expected. In fact, Reuben (the firstborn), Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Dan, and Benjamin – were all vilified by Jacob. He didn’t exactly curse them, but his words had the sting of rebuke in them! Watching those eleven knuckleheads grow up together, Jacob obviously knew his sons. With the possible exception of Judah, those who were virtuous received his praise and those who weren’t were blasted by his criticism.

Still, I believe that Jacob addressed his sons in this way to make one final attempt to make peace between them and with them. He hoped to end the sibling rivalry that had previously marked their relationships.

Though they were older, Reuben, Simeon, and Levi had been bad actors and did not deserve to be head of the family. Though that role traditionally fell to the eldest, these three were unworthy. So there would be no doubt and no arguments about his wishes, Jacob designated Judah as chief among his brothers. In 49:8 he said, “JUDAH, YOUR BROTHERS WILL PRAISE YOU; YOUR HAND WILL BE ON THE NECK OF YOUR ENEMIES; YOUR FATHER’S SONS WILL BOW DOWN TO YOU.”

Jacob blessed Joseph with the highest praise and affirmed that he was worthy of his father’s richest blessing. In 49:26 he said, “YOUR FATHER’S BLESSINGS ARE GREATER THAN THE BLESSINGS OF THE MOUNTAINS, THAN THE BOUNTY OF THE AGE-OLD HILLS. LET ALL THESE REST ON THE HEAD OF JOSEPH, ON THE BROW OF THE PRINCE AMONG HIS BROTHERS.”

The other preparation Jacob made for death was to hold Joseph to his earlier vow to bury Jacob in Canaan. This vow was sworn in 47:31 = “SWEAR TO ME,” [Jacob] SAID. THEN JOSEPH SWORE TO HIM, AND ISRAEL WORSHIPED AS HE LEANED ON TOP OF HIS STAFF.

Seventeen years later, (48:29-32) Jacob reminded Joseph of this oath and reminded all his sons of where he wanted to be buried.

The point here is that Joseph wanted to be buried in the land God had promised to his fathers. His last wish was to be perpetually connected with the land that would be the singular possession of his people. This final request reveals the faith of Jacob, who was utterly assured that God would keep His promise.

Notice the touching but understated way the writer of Genesis describes Jacob’s death (49:33): WHEN JACOB HAD FINISHED GIVING INSTRUCTIONS TO HIS SONS, HE DREW HIS FEET UP INTO THE BED, BREATHED HIS LAST AND WAS GATHERED TO THE HIS PEOPLE. Isn’t that the way all of us would wish to go? Quietly in our bed, with our family gathered around us?

Joseph’s reaction was also touching and obedient to his father’s wishes.

– 50:1 = JOSEPH THREW HIMSELF UPON HIS FATHER AND WEPT OVER HIM AND KISSED HIM.

– It’s interesting how Joseph followed all the Egyptian customs first; he had Jacob’s body embalmed in the Egyptian way (50:2-3). The embalming took A FULL FORTY DAYS and was followed by SEVENTY DAYS of mourning all over Egypt.

– After meeting all the Egyptian customs, Joseph asked pharaoh for permission to bury his father (50:4-6). Notice that Pharaoh did not merely agree to allow this, but – as he had done before – really went the extra mile and sent all of the court of Egypt along with Joseph traveling in the greatest luxury possible (50:7-9).

Then, once the caravan reached the burial site, they followed through with the burial customs of Joseph’s people: the mourners all LAMENTED LOUD AND BITTERLY, observing seven days of mourning before burying Jacob’s body (50:10-14).

  1. Joseph (aka “Zaphenath-Paneah”) made peace with his brothers and died.

One of the absolute truths of human nature is that the motives we attribute to others are a window to our own soul. So when we read about the eleven worrying about Joseph retaliating, it gives us insight into how little their character has changed over the years (50:15). For this reason they…

– Concocted a new lie (50:16-17).

– Humbled themselves before Joseph (50:18). Of course, this action is the fulfillment of the dreams back in chapter 37! Their reaction to the dreams set all these events in motion, then, toward the end, their choice of actions fulfill the dream. That is both irony and providence.

Joseph’s reaction offers more proof of his godly character.

– 50:17 = WHEN THEIR MESSAGE CAME TO HIM, JOSEPH WEPT.

– 50:19-21 = He did everything he could to reassure them that revenge was not on his mind or in his heart. Joseph knew vengeance is best left to God. He also knew that what they did so many years ago was out of evil intent, but God used it to accomplish good. As he had told them seventeen years earlier (45:4-7), God’s purpose was SAVING LIVES. With reassuring and kind words, Joseph urged his brothers not to be afraid of retaliation or anything else. He promised to PROVIDE FOR them and their children.

Three generations later, it came to be time for Joseph to be join his fathers in death (50:22-23). He called the eleven brothers to his side and said two things to them:

– 50:24 = He reminded them of God’s promise that one day God would help the descendants of Jacob leave Egypt. He reassured them that God would take them to the land He had promised their fathers.

– 50:25 = As his father had done before him, Joseph made his brothers promise that when they left Egypt, they would not leave his remains in Egypt, but take them along to be reinterred in the Promised Land. As we observed with Jacob, this is an act of faith on Joseph’s part. Confident God would keep His promise, Joseph wanted his remains to rest where his people would live. He saw their return to Canaan as inevitable

And with these simple words of 50:26, one of the most dramatic accounts in the Bible comes to an end. Notice again the restraint with which Genesis records Joseph’s death: SO JOSEPH DIED AT THE AGE OF A HUNDRED AND TEN. AND AFTER THEY EMBALMED HIM, HE WAS PLACED IN A COFFIN.

This promise was kept in Joshua 24:32 = AND JOSEPH’S BONES, WHICH THE ISRAELITES HAD BROUGHT UP FROM EGYPT, WERE BURIED AT SCHECHEM IN THE TRACT OF LAND THAT JACOB BOUGHT FOR A HUNDRED PIECES OF SILVER FROM THE SONS OF HAMOR, THE FATHER OF SCHECHEM. THIS BECAME AN INHERITANCE OF JOSEPH’S DESCENDANTS.

Old Max had started out as a diamond cutter, and through hard work and good judgment he finally became the owner of a National chain of jewelry stores. He was wealthy indeed.

But now, he lay dying, so he called his wife to his side. “Hannah,” he began, “I always meant to draw up a will but somehow I never got around to it. So pay close to attention to my last wishes.”

“Yes, Max, I am listening,” Hannah wept. “Whatever you want, it will be done.”

“First of all, the business I leave to Harry.”

“Oh, no, Max, not to Harry!” his wife protested. “With Harry it’s girl-girls-girls! Leave the business better to Jerome. He’s at least reliable and has a good head for figures.”

“Alright, let it be Jerome,” sighed the dying man. “To Harry I leave the stocks and bonds.”

“Better you should leave me the stocks and bonds. I should take care he doesn’t squander it on women or cards.”

“Very well, in your name I leave the securities. And the summer house I leave to our sweet Minnie.”

“Minnie!” exclaimed his wife. “What for what does Minnie need another summer house? Her husband didn’t buy her one last year? Give it to Anna – her husband is a poor man. After all she’s our flesh and blood too.”

“Fine! Anna gets the summer house,” he sighed resignedly. “And to our youngest Abe, I leave the car and the warehouses.”

“But Abe has already 2 cars. What does he need with another one? And he wants to be a musician – what would he do with warehouses? Take my advice and give them to Louis.”

That did it! Old Max had taken all he could of his wife’s interference. Raising himself off the pillow and summoning his last ounce of strength, he snapped, “Hannah, who is dying here – you or me?”

(Retrieved from http://www.greatcleanjokes.com/jokes/death-humor/death-joke/ on 9/25/15.)

Joseph: Reunited

(Please read Genesis 45 and 46 in your favorite version of the Bible.  I have prepared these remarks using the NIV.)

If you’ve been following along, you’ll notice that I’ve hopped over chapters 42-44; Joseph’s intrigues with his brothers.  I confess to being chicken.  I don’t see Joseph’s reason for engaging in these maneuvers, they’re lengthy, repetitive, and they only complicate the story. I encourage you to read them for yourself.  When you can make sense of it, please contact me.

SO.  From confession to an MSN News item dated September 16 2015:

A 103-year-old Georgia woman, banned from the church she’s been attending for over nine decades, is speaking out about her expulsion from her Baptist Church.

“According to reports, Genora Ham Biggs and the Rev. Tim Mattox of Union Grove Baptist Church in Elberton, Ga., have been going back and forth over his preaching, which Biggs calls a ‘holiness style’ that has been adopted at the church since he was hired about six years ago. Biggs says that sort of preaching doesn’t belong in a Baptist church.”

Biggs, who has been attending the church since she was just 11 years old, and who once served as the church secretary, is known by some in the congregation as the “church mother,” while others have dubbed her a “Jezebel.” But a recent letter from the church directed her that she is no longer welcome to worship; she’s been banned from entering the property after being too outspoken.

When Biggs tried to attend the service after receiving the letter, Mattox met her at the door and told her she wasn’t welcome. She pushed in, and Mattox reportedly dismissed the service, sent everyone home and shut off the lights. Biggs was left sitting alone, in the dark, in a church pew.

Biggs told Fox Carolina: “I was shocked. It was not a good feeling. I haven’t seen anything like this before,” she said of the service being canceled outright.  Biggs is receiving widespread support on social media, while the church’s Facebook page has been barraged with damning messages against the actions of the church.

(Retrieved from http://www.examiner.com/article/103-year-old-woman-banned-from-church-lifelong-churchgoer-booted-by-ga-church on 9/17/15.)

It’s bad when the family is fractured.  I think we can agree on a few facts regarding this story: One, we have only heard one side so far.  Two, we do not want the problems of the church being prosecuted in social media.  Three, both sides seem to have forgotten whose church it is.  Four, we need to pray that this church family gets restored; that the conflict gets resolved.

This kind of fractured family is where we began our look into the life of Joseph.  We saw how sibling rivalry ushered in a set of very difficult and even unjust circumstances for Joseph.  Today we find out why.  From Joseph’s own lips we will learn what God was doing throughout all these circumstances, even the mistakes, miscues and outright sins that various people committed.

I pray that after today we’ll be encouraged by the knowledge that God is in control and that He has the power to take what is intended for evil and turn it to good.

MESSAGE: In all circumstances, God is working on our salvation.

  1. Reunited with his brothers, Joseph explained God’s greater purpose (45:1-15).

Whatever motive Joseph had for the two intrigues he perpetrated in chapters 42-44, he abandoned them at the end of chapter 44 and is overcome with emotion at the beginning of chapter 45.  He dismissed his ATTENDANTS, but proceeded to weep so loudly that they overheard his cries AND they felt justified in reporting this to Pharaoh.  Verse three indicates part of the emotion is concern for his father: Joseph wants to know whether he is alive or not.

For their part, the eleven brothers are confused and slow to understand.  In their defense, keep in mind this is a sudden and dramatic change.  Previously, the Egyptian official before them – now claiming to be their brother – had accused them of spying and thievery.  The passage of years and wearing the garb of a different culture no doubt changed Joseph’s appearance: he had to call them to have a closer look and see who he really was.

This is one of the more dramatic scenes of the Bible but the emotion is very understated.  The writer does not want us to miss the point in all the drama.

Joseph explained the point of it all is that God was at work all the time. He stated God’s will succinctly: “IT WAS TO SAVE LIVES THAT GOD SENT ME AHEAD OF YOU.”  Though the brothers’ intentions and actions were evil, God’s will was done.  This truth is the key to the Joseph narrative; God is in control in ALL circumstances.

This fact would be of international consequence. Countless people would be saved. But, as we see later in the passage, Joseph and Pharaoh would see to it that God’s will was on a personal scale too, and Joseph’s family would be saved.  Starting with the dreams and continuing with all the exceptional events of Joseph’s life, he was being prepared and placed by God where God wanted him to be.

The scene ends with the brothers being reconciled: hugging, kissing, and talking to one another (45:14-15).  When they parted company, Joseph gave them a bit of brotherly and friendly advice: “DON’T QUARREL ON THE WAY!”  This implies their reconciliation is complete and the relationship is restored.

  1. Pharaoh blessed the reunion with extra provision for Joseph’s family (45:16-24).

The text implies that Joseph and Pharaoh came up with the same idea independent of one another: to bring his father’s household to Egypt, where they could be cared for throughout the remaining years of the famine.  Pharaoh was especially generous; “I WILL GIVE YOU THE BEST OF THE LAND OF EGYPT AND YOU CAN ENJOY THE FAT OF THE LAND.”

Given the circumstances, Egypt was the best place for Israel & his family to be.  It’s said at least three times in this chapter to make it obvious; God worked to save His people.  Historically, we know that the sons of Jacob did prosper in Egypt.  They grew to be a great and numerous people.  You could say that Egypt provided a safe place in which the people of God could prosper.

Here’s an important truth, folks; God’s will is always what’s best for you.  In the short term, it may present difficulties, but it always ends up being for our good.

3. Joseph was reunited w/ Jacob(45:25-46:34)

You can understand how Jacob, who had been so heartbroken at the news of Joseph’s death so many years ago, might be STUNNED to hear that he was alive after all.  The word for STUNNED literally means that Jacob’s “heart grew numb.”

Jacob the Deceiver could hardly believe that he had been deceived all these years.  How could he admit such a thing, even to himself?   More likely, I think, was that the news was too good to be true.  The shock and surprise were too great to easily overcome.

What convinced him were the carts full of food and provisions that Pharaoh and Joseph had ordered as gifts to the family.  Joseph’s survival and exaltation to a place of authority in Egypt – the whole improbable tale – must be true, for it explained the evidence of his eyes.

In contrast to his “numbed heart,” the evidence before Jacob’s eyes REVIVED his SPIRIT and he exclaimed, “I’M CONVINCED! MY SON JOSEPH IS STILL ALIVE.  I WILL GO AND SEE HIM BEFORE I DIE.”  The generosity of Pharaoh REVIVED Jacob.  As we know, acts of kindness can renew a human heart.

Having made his decision to believe Joseph was alive, Jacob/Israel set out for Egypt.  At one of the caravan’s stops, he worshipped God.  Notice Jacob acted FIRST.  He acted on faith and THEN God sent a vision that affirmed his decision.

God told him, “DO NOT BE AFRAID.”  How often do we read THAT in Scripture?  And yet, how often do we allow ourselves to be bound by fear?  The LORD encouraged Jacob in four other ways:

– By reminding him of the promise first made to his grand-father, Abraham; “I WILL MAKE YOU INTO A GREAT NATION.”  This would happen in Egypt.

– By promising to be with him; “I WILL GO DOWN TO EGYPT WITH YOU.”

– By promising to bring the nation of Israel out of Egypt; “I WILL BRING YOU BACK AGAIN.”  In Genesis 15:13-14, God told Abraham that his descendants would be slaves for 400 years, but they would come out of it endowed with great wealth.

– On a personal level, promising Jacob that he would be with Joseph until the day he died; “JOSEPH’S OWN HAND WILL CLOSE YOUR EYES.”  They wouldn’t be separated again, as Joseph’s hand would be the one to close Jacob’s eyelids after he died.  This may sound like a strange way of phrasing a promise, but from Jacob’s own words, all he wanted was to see Joseph again before he died.

“When you’re in church, should you leave your cell phone in your pocket or purse? Or can you take it out to look up Bible verses or take notes?

“Almost all Americans (96%) believe that using a cell phone in church is generally unacceptable, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center. In fact, worship services are the most frowned-upon setting to use a cell phone, followed closely by movie theaters and meetings.

“However, half of Americans who use their mobile device during worship services find their phones are an easy way to look up scriptures and songs. About 40 percent said using mobile and internet technology can help messages of hope and inspiration reach more people, as well as can make personal faith more accessible to those with disabilities.  Christianity Today has noted how many millennials use their cell phones to fact check their pastor’s sermon.”

(Retrieved from http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2015/

september/sunday-morning-where-should-cell-phone-be-church-etiquette.html on 9/17/15.)

I am convinced that electronics will never take the place of face-to-face personal conversation.  I know that problems get resolved and relationships restored when people talk and listen.  I believe that even though God can redeem t worst circumstances, He prefers that we love one another first & work together to overcome obstacles to our relationships with one another.  In all circumstances, God is working on our salvation.  He expects us to join Him in that work.

Joseph: From Prisoner to Potentate

(Please read Genesis 41 from your favorite version of the Bible.  My citations (in capital letters) are from the NIV.)

 

Message: God lifts up the humble.

 

There was a hunter on a hunting expedition in the Amazon.  As the sun rose, he noticed a family of large birds. The mother bird tended to the baby birds while the father flew from place to place retrieving food for his hungry family.      While watching this scene, the hunter caught sight of a poisonous snake slowly making its way towards the mother bird and the babies, anticipating an easy meal. About the same time, the father bird dropped food at the nest and spotted t snake. The father bird quickly flew away. The hunter was disappointed, thinking that the father bird abandoned his family to a certain death.      He kept an eye on the father bird and saw it break off a leafy twig from the bush and rush back to the nest, where the serpent has come dangerously close. The father bird placed the leaves over the front edge of the nest closest to the snake and then he retreats to a nearby branch to watch.

The serpent drew to within striking range. It coiled itself and launched itself toward the baby birds. However, when the snake touched the leaves it instantly recoiled in pain and fell out of the tree.

The hunter asked the native villagers about this strange turn of events.  He said, “I don’t understand why the snake pulled back.” The villagers explained that the leaf the father bird chose was from the only bush in the jungle that was poisonous to the snake. The father bird knew how to protect his nest.

  1. Pharaoh had disturbing dreams (vs. 1-8).

TWO FULL YEARS pass between chapters 40+41. Virtually everything is in twos: both the prisoners’ and Pharaoh’s dreams are repeated twice, Pharaoh had two dreams to make one point, and Joseph had two sons.  Chapters 42-44 are two very similar plot Joseph unfolds to trick his brothers.  All of this is for emphasis and to show God’s hand in the events as they unfold.

Once again we observe that God’s timing is better than ours.  Had the cupbearer mentioned Joseph two years earlier, Pharaoh would’ve had no need of him.

Even before he learned the meaning of the dreams, Pharaoh was disturbed. In verses 4+5 we observe that Pharaoh awoke and fell asleep again. How well does that work for you?  Might that indicate “troubled sleep” as far as you are concerned?

Verse 8 says pointedly, PHAROAH’S MIND WAS TROUBLED.  That explains why, when he told Joseph about the dreams that he editorialized a bit: “I HAVE NEVER SEEN SUCH UGLY COWS IN EGYPT (v. 19).” Given the way these dreams turned from good to bad, his emotional reaction is understandable.  He had a nightmare double feature!

All this explains his immediate reaction: HE SENT FOR ALL THE MAGICIANS AND WISE MEN OF EGYPT (v. 8).  No help there,  as Pharaoh said, “NONE COULD EXPLAIN IT TO ME” (v. 24).

The first dream took place at the Nile.  It is hard to overestimate the importance of the Nile in Egyptian culture.  They saw that river as the origin of their national life, their most important resource.  If the Nile was corrupted, then that would weigh heavily on Pharaoh’s mind. As it was customary to fatten cattle on the grasses & plants that grew on the banks, the connection of cattle and the river was not itself out of the ordinary.

Regarding the grain, imagine a single seed producing up to 14 stalks and on each stalk a head producing 30 grains.  That’s 420 spikelets per stalk! In Egypt, an eastern wind has blown over the Saharan desert, becoming a hot blast of air that withers plants.

Strictly on his CUPBEARER’s say-so, PHARAOH SENT FOR JOSEPH (v. 14).  The cupbearer’s lack of gratitude to Joseph still stands.  He is only now mentioning Joseph because he is desperate to be useful and to appease Pharaoh.  This shows Pharaoh’s trust in his cupbearer and/or his desperation for an answer.

  1. Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams and solved his problem (9-36).

Joseph once again attributed to God his ability to interpret dreams (v. 16).  This is a sign of humility and faith – directing people’s attention back to God. By faith Joseph made a confident promise: “GOD WILL GIVE PHARAOH THE ANSWER HE DESIRES.”

Joseph also repeatedly identified God as the giver of these dreams – not the Egyptian pantheon of gods, but the one true God.

While interpreting the dreams, he also set forth a solution to the famine fore-shadowed in Pharaoh’s dreams.  This is the most significant part of the whole exchange.

  1. God lifted Joseph up (vs. 37-57).

Pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph and so convinced of God’s hand on him that he elevates him from prisoner to potentate in an instant!  He noted Joseph’s qualifications in verse 39: “GOD MADE ALL OF THIS KNOWN TO YOU” and “THERE IS NO ONE SO DISCERNING & WISE.”

He elevated Joseph’s authority, from Assistant Warden to Assistant Pharaoh!  Note the specifics:

– He put Joseph “IN CHARGE OF MY PALACE.”

– He proclaimed that “ALL PEOPLE [will] SUBMIT TO YOUR ORDERS.”

– In rank, Joseph was second only to Pharaoh.

– Pharaoh said Joseph would be “IN CHARGE OF/T WHOLE OF EGYPT.”

– He gave Joseph several signs of office, including Pharaoh’s own SIGNET RING, ROBES OF FINE LINEN to replace his prisoner’s garments, and A GOLD CHAIN AROUND HIS NECK.

– Joseph had the honor of riding “shotgun” in Pharaoh’s chariot.

– Pharaoh gave Joseph an unpronounceable and hyphenated name; both very cool!  The name meant “revealer of secrets,” or “savior of the land,” or, in an ironic twist, “a wise man who flees from adultery.”

– He gave Joseph an Egyptian princess as his wife.  It is possible that her father worshiped the one true God and so Pharaoh did not require Joseph to marry a pagan woman and thereby compromise his beliefs.

Verse 46 says that Joseph was 30 years old when he came into Pharaoh’s service.  He was seventeen when he was first brought into Egypt, spending thirteen years in service to Potiphar, and three in prison.

Most importantly, God elevated Joseph, making him successful and blessed.  Joseph was blessed with two sons whose descendants would each become half-tribes of the nation of Israel.

But the most important sign of god’s blessing is how Joseph’s plans succeeded.  God blessed Egypt with super-abundant crops for seven years.  The word ABUNDANCE in v. 47 literally means “handful.”  Imagine this: just the one-fifth of these crops provided more grain than could be reliably counted (v. 49)!  God used Joseph’s administration to save Egypt and surrounding countries during the seven years of famine.

Remember, regardless of the people involved, the hero of every biblical story is God.  God’s hand is the one orchestrating these events, it is His timing that brings dreamer and interpreter together at just the right time.  God’s action in human history is called “providence” and this is one of those occasions when providence takes place on a big scale, affecting the outcome of nations.

PSS 22:27-28 = ALL THE ENDS OF THE EARTH WILL REMEMBER AND TURN TO THE LORD, AND ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE NATIONS WILL BOW DOWN BEFORE HIM, FOR DOMINION BELONGS TO THE LORD AND HE RULES OVER THE NATIONS.